Arsenal defeated West Bromwich Albion 2-0 at the Emirates on Tuesday to kick off its Carling Cup run for the season. Sanchez Watt scored in his initial first-team start for the Gunners, while Carlos Vela also bagged a goal in his return to action after a summer ankle injury.
The Mexican forward, who notched a number of impressive goals in this competition last season, entered the game with Mark Randall after an hour of play. The two substitutes helped turn the lively third-round Cup encounter Arsenal’s way, as the home side gained the upper hand with two tallies during an impressive second-half display.
Selecting eight teenagers for his starting lineup, Arsene Wenger has again decided on featuring Arsenal’s youngsters in the Carling Cup this campaign. To offer some veteran leadership, Mikael Sylvestre and Philippe Senderos slotted in as the Gunners central defenders for the evening matchup.
And it was Senderos who had the first solid chance on goal, heading a corner just wide only a couple of minutes in. The Swiss defender who almost left North London on a transfer this summer was seeing his first action at the Emirates in over a year, having spent last season on loan to AC Milan.
West Brom, who currently lead the Championship standings after trouncing Middlesbrough 5-0 on the weekend, started the match well and had as many chances on goal as Arsenal in the opening half hour. But Polish keeper Wojciech Szczesny made some fine saves to deny the visitors and keep things scoreless.
The entertaining first half saw Jack Wilshere create a number of chances for Arsenal, first playing in Sanchez Watt for a shot that hit the post and then narrowingly missing with his own effort. His tussle in minute 36 with former Gunner Jerome Thomas after clashing for a loose ball served as the turning point in the opening half — as the West Brom man was shown a red card for raising his hands and shoving Wilshere down.
Arsenal couldn’t capitalize with the extra man before the break, but started the second stanza strong with a definite territorial advantage. Still, the first clear opportunity on goal in the half fell to the visitors, as an unmarked Simon Cox could only put a header over the bar, just before the hour mark.
That’s when Wenger made his changes, and Vela’s introduction did offer a boost to the home side and its crowd. In the 68th minute, he took a pass from Aaron Ramsey and created some space on the edge of the area before rocketing a shot on goal. West Brom keeper Dean Kiely made a fine block, but Watt pounced on the rebound to slot home the opening goal.
While Ramsey and Vela soon had additional efforts on goal against the tiring visitors, the second goal came 15 minutes from time. Randall worked his way past a couple of defenders and lofted a sumptuous chip over Kiely that hit the crossbar. Vela stole in to control the rebound and score from inches out, providing the game’s final margin.
Home supporters were pleased to see the return of the Mexican, as was his manager. “When he came on straight away he made a difference because he is dangerous in his control and in his movement.
“His class gives you something special but I feel overall it was a good game,” said Wenger in a post-match interview. “It would have been a great game certainly if it had stayed 11 against 11 but we were patient, we played with cohesion and intelligence. We didn’t make mistakes and in the end the natural outcome was there.”
The manager believes Vela isn’t ready for Premiership action just yet, stating: “He was not even ready to start tonight but he needs to work. We have Van Persie, Bendtner, Eduardo and Vela as strikers, because we count Walcott more as a midfielder, as a right-winger.
“Of course he is in my plans, he can play as a winger as well,” added the manager. “He can play wide left, wide right, he can play central, he gives you plenty of options.”
Vela will almost certainly be an option in Arsenal’s next Carling Cup match, with the Gunners set to find out their next opponent on Saturday, when the draw for the fourth round will be held.